1. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Irreconcilable Differences

We can’t always agree to disagree.

When a colleague and I disagree on a plan, decision, or other action, we can generally agree to disagree. Having a difference of opinion is okay. In fact, in an organization that seeks diversity of opinions, academic disciplines, social differences, and cultural backgrounds, some disagreement is useful and should be expected.

That said, my daughter caught me off guard the other day when she remarked that “agreeing to disagree” works for such choices as whether or not we like coffee, but not for issues that affect the welfare of others. She was drawing a line between personal opinion and foundational morality gaps. She was talking about values.

I’ve blogged extensively about how essential shared values and a strong corporate culture are to the sustained success of any enterprise. I cherish the privilege of working with so many people who share the same values and who consult those values when making decisions. But my daughter’s off-hand remark gave me pause; I wonder how many times I’ve disagreed with people without recognizing that our perspectives come from fundamentally different value systems.

Have you ever heard someone say, “We just don’t speak the same language”?

An article in Psychology Today suggests this can literally be true, based on a study that analyzed the word-choice used in Twitter commentary. Also, I’ve been studying differences in Cultural Intelligence in worldviews; political philosopher Steve McIntosh sites distinct differences between those who espouse a traditional worldview, a modernist worldview, or a progressive worldview. Their values, their heroes, and their sense of what is true vary widely. Further, he points to the emergence of an integral worldview that pulls together the positive values of all major worldviews.

By extension, I’m guessing that these ingrained differences in language and worldviews also apply to people who embrace different business models, different economic theories, and different day-to-day values. Sometimes, people who work together are just approaching things from a fundamentally different place. And those differences are hard to reconcile.

This is not a phenomenon we can “fix.” But we would all do well, when navigating arguments with people whose positions we don’t comprehend, to recognize it for what it is. And we should consider value alignment when hiring people and seeking new jobs or affiliations. After all, if we don’t share values, there’s not much else we can share.